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ChargedUp picks up £1.2M seed to grow its mobile charging network across UK

ChargedUp, a U.K. startup that offers a mobile charging network that takes inspiration from bike sharing, has closed £1.2 million in seed investment. Leading the round is Sir John Hegarty’s fund The Garage, and the ex-Innocent Smoothie founders fund JamJar. The funding will be used to grow the offering across the U.K. and for international expansion.
Founded by Hugo Tilmouth, Charlie Baron, Hakeem Buge and Forrest Skerman Stevenson, ChargedUp has set out to solve the dead mobile phone battery problem with a charging network. However, rather than offer fixed charging points, the team has developed a solution that lets you rent a mobile charging pack from one destination and return it at a different location if needed. That way, mobile phone use remains mobile.
“It’s annoying and inconvenient to be out and about with a dying phone battery,” says CEO Hugo Tilmouth. We’ve all been there and I was inspired to do something about it through my own experiences. I was at a cricket match at London’s Lord’s Cricket Ground and waiting for a call for a last round interview with a large tech firm, and was running very low on charge! I ended up having to leave the cricket ground, buy a power bank and then rode a Boris Bike home and the light bulb went off in my head! Why not combine the flexibility of the sharing economy with the need of a ‘ChargedUp’ phone!”
The solution was to create multiple distribution points across a city, located in the venues where people spend most of their time. This includes cafes, bars and restaurants. “Our solution uses an app to enable users to find the nearest stations, unlock a sharable power bank and then return it to any station in the network and only pay for the time they use. Our goal is to be never five minutes from a charge,” adds Tilmouth.

In the next six months, ChargedUp says it will expand its network of over 250 vending stations in London’s bars, cafes and restaurants across to other large metropolitan areas in the U.K. Last month, the young startup partnered with Marks & Spencer to trial the platform in its central London stores. If the trial is successful, ChargedUp says it could lead to providing its phone-charging solution to all M&S customers by the end of 2019.
“Since launch we have delivered over 1 million minutes of charge across the network, and our customers love the service,” says Tilmouth. “Like the sharing scooter and bike companies, we operate a time-based model. We simply charge our users a simple price of 50p per 30 mins to charge their phones. We also make revenue from the advertising space both on our batteries and within our app.”
With regards to competition, Tilmouth says ChargedUp’s most direct competitor is the charging lockers found in some public spaces, such as ChargeBox. “We do not see this as a viable alternative to ChargedUp as users are forced to lock their phones away preventing them from using them while it charges. They are also prone to theft and damage. We are also differentiated by our use of green energy offsetting throughout the network,” he says.
Meanwhile, in a statement, investor Sir John Hegarty talks up the revenue opportunities beyond rentals, which includes advertising, rewards and loyalty. “At its simplest, ChargedUp addresses a massive need in the market, mobile devices running out of power. But more than that, ChargedUp provides advertisers with a powerful medium that connects directly with their audience at point of purchase,” he says.
Prior to today’s seed round, ChargedUp received investment from Telefonica via the Wayra accelerator and Brent Hoberman’s Founders Factory.

ChargedUp picks up £1.2M seed to grow its mobile charging network across UK

Banuba raises $7M to supercharge any app or device with the ability to really see you

Walking into the office of Viktor Prokopenya — which overlooks a central London park — you would perhaps be forgiven for missing the significance of this unassuming location, just south of Victoria Station in London. While giant firms battle globally to make augmented reality a “real industry,” this jovial businessman from Belarus is poised to launch a revolutionary new technology for just this space. This is the kind of technology some of the biggest companies in the world are snapping up right now, and yet, scuttling off to make me a coffee in the kitchen is someone who could be sitting on just such a company.
Regardless of whether its immediate future is obvious or not, AR has a future if the amount of investment pouring into the space is anything to go by.
In 2016 AR and VR attracted $2.3 billion worth of investments (a 300 percent jump from 2015) and is expected to reach $108 billion by 2021 — 25 percent of which will be aimed at the AR sector. But, according to numerous forecasts, AR will overtake VR in 5-10 years.
Apple is clearly making headway in its AR developments, having recently acquired AR lens company Akonia Holographics and in releasing iOS 12 this month, it enables developers to fully utilize ARKit 2, no doubt prompting the release of a new wave of camera-centric apps. This year Sequoia Capital China, SoftBank invested $50 million in AR camera app Snow. Samsung recently introduced its version of the AR cloud and a partnership with Wacom that turns Samsung’s S-Pen into an augmented reality magic wand.
The IBM/Unity partnership allows developers to integrate into their Unity applications Watson cloud services such as visual recognition, speech to text and more.
So there is no question that AR is becoming increasingly important, given the sheer amount of funding and M&A activity.

Joining the field is Prokopenya’s “Banuba” project. For although you can download a Snapchat-like app called “Banuba” from the App Store right now, underlying this is a suite of tools of which Prokopenya is the founding investor, and who is working closely to realize a very big vision with the founding team of AI/AR experts behind it.
The key to Banuba’s pitch is the idea that its technology could equip not only apps but even hardware devices with “vision.” This is a perfect marriage of both AI and AR. What if, for instance, Amazon’s Alexa couldn’t just hear you? What if it could see you and interpret your facial expressions or perhaps even your mood? That’s the tantalizing strategy at the heart of this growing company.
Better known for its consumer apps, which have been effectively testing their concepts in the consumer field for the last year, Banuba is about to move heavily into the world of developer tools with the release of its new Banuba 3.0 mobile SDK. (Available to download now in the App Store for iOS devices and Google Play Store for Android.) It’s also now secured a further $7 million in funding from Larnabel Ventures, the fund of Russian entrepreneur Said Gutseriev, and Prokopenya’s VP Capital.
This move will take its total funding to $12 million. In the world of AR, this is like a Romulan warbird de-cloaking in a scene from Star Trek.
Banuba hopes that its SDK will enable brands and apps to utilise 3D Face AR inside their own apps, meaning users can benefit from cutting-edge face motion tracking, facial analysis, skin smoothing and tone adjustment. Banuba’s SDK also enables app developers to utilise background subtraction, which is similar to “green screen” technology regularly used in movies and TV shows, enabling end-users to create a range of AR scenarios. Thus, like magic, you can remove that unsightly office surrounding and place yourself on a beach in the Bahamas…
Because Banuba’s technology equips devices with “vision,” meaning they can “see” human faces in 3D and extract meaningful subject analysis based on neural networks, including age and gender, it can do things that other apps just cannot do. It can even monitor your heart rate via spectral analysis of the time-varying color tones in your face.
It has already been incorporated into an app called Facemetrix, which can track a child’s eyes to ascertain whether they are reading something on a phone or tablet or not. Thanks to this technology, it is possible to not just “track” a person’s gaze, but also to control a smartphone’s function with a gaze. To that end, the SDK can detect micro-movements of the eye with subpixel accuracy in real time, and also detects certain points of the eye. The idea behind this is to “Gamify education,” rewarding a child with games and entertainment apps if the Facemetrix app has duly checked that they really did read the e-book they told their parents they’d read.
If that makes you think of a parallel with a certain Black Mirror episode where a young girl is prevented from seeing certain things via a brain implant, then you wouldn’t be a million miles away. At least this is a more benign version…
Banuba’s SDK also includes “Avatar AR,” empowering developers to get creative with digital communication by giving users the ability to interact with — and create personalized — avatars using any iOS or Android device.Prokopenya says: “We are in the midst of a critical transformation between our existing smartphones and future of AR devices, such as advanced glasses and lenses. Camera-centric apps have never been more important because of this.” He says that while developers using ARKit and ARCore are able to build experiences primarily for top-of-the-range smartphones, Banuba’s SDK can work on even low-range smartphones.
The SDK will also feature Avatar AR, which allows users to interact with fun avatars or create personalised ones for all iOS and Android devices. Why should users of Apple’s iPhone X be the only people to enjoy Animoji?
Banuba is also likely to take advantage of the news that Facebook recently announced it was testing AR ads in its newsfeed, following trials for businesses to show off products within Messenger.
Banuba’s technology won’t simply be for fun apps, however. Inside two years, the company has filed 25 patent applications with the U.S. patent office, and of six of those were processed in record time compared with the average. Its R&D center, staffed by 50 people and based in Minsk, is focused on developing a portfolio of technologies.
Interestingly, Belarus has become famous for AI and facial recognition technologies.
For instance, cast your mind back to early 2016, when Facebook bought Masquerade, a Minsk-based developer of a video filter app, MSQRD, which at one point was one of the most popular apps in the App Store. And in 2017, another Belarusian company, AIMatter, was acquired by Google, only months after raising $2 million. It too took an SDK approach, releasing a platform for real-time photo and video editing on mobile, dubbed Fabby. This was built upon a neural network-based AI platform. But Prokopenya has much bolder plans for Banuba.
In early 2017, he and Banuba launched a “technology-for-equity” program to enroll app developers and publishers across the world. This signed up Inventain, another startup from Belarus, to develop AR-based mobile games.
Prokopenya says the technologies associated with AR will be “leveraged by virtually every kind of app. Any app can recognize its user through the camera: male or female, age, ethnicity, level of stress, etc.” He says the app could then respond to the user in any number of ways. Literally, your apps could be watching you.
So, for instance, a fitness app could see how much weight you’d lost just by using the Banuba SDK to look at your face. Games apps could personalize the game based on what it knows about your face, such as reading your facial cues.
Back in his London office, overlooking a small park, Prokopenya waxes lyrical about the “incredible concentration of diversity, energy and opportunity” of London. “Living in London is fantastic,” he says. “The only thing I am upset about, however, is the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and what it might mean for business in the U.K. in the future.”
London may be great (and will always be), but sitting on his desk is a laptop with direct links back to Minsk, a place where the facial recognition technologies of the future are only now just emerging.

Banuba raises $7M to supercharge any app or device with the ability to really see you

Truphone raises $339M to retire debt and step up in connecting IoT devices

 Truphone, a mobile company based out of London that made a name for itself through low-cost international mobile voice and data plans, is taking a very big step forward in a strategy to catapult itself into the future of communications: the company has picked up a massive £255 million ($339 million), funding that it will use to retire its debt and double down on providing data connectivity… Read More

Truphone raises $339M to retire debt and step up in connecting IoT devices

Kiip Takes Its First International Steps, Inks Reward Network Deal With UK’s Yo! Sushi

yosushi-kiip-notif

Kiip — the San Francisco-based mobile marketing startup that has created a “rewards network” in which users see offers for free goods and services instead of mobile ads — is going international. The company has signed on the UK-based sushi chain, Yo! Sushi, to deliver offers for free food across apps used in the UK that have integrated Kiip’s service.

Although Kiip has had some of its U.S. customers serve ads outside of the U.S., this is the first time a non-U.S. company has signed on for the service, and the first time Kiip is sending out offers in the UK on a localized, London-only basis, to coincide with the fact that there are so many more people (and specifically Americans) in town for the Olympics. In a meeting this past weekend in a little coffee shop in London, CEO and co-founder Brian Wong told me this is just the beginning of many deals like this as Kiip ramps up its growth, on the back of a recent $11 million Series B round of funding.

The expansion comes at a time when Kiip is competing against a number of other companies that also deliver rewards instead of straight advertisements, like Foursquare and Groupon. The space remains wide open, says Wong, and “we have realized that we could become the trusted rewards provider out there.”

If there’s one thing that seems to annoy the otherwise mild-mannered Wong, it’s that Kiip often gets called a mobile advertising network. “We’re about rewards, not ads,” he told me, stretching out the r-word. He thinks ads, in their current state, have some major limits because of issues with usability and effectiveness. “When you see companies jamming ads into small formats, saying ‘let’s just shrink this billboard,’ it just doesn’t work,” he said.

Rather than trying to figure out how best to cram lots of information into a limited space, Kiip has moved the goalposts altogether and focused its use of small real estate directly on something that a customer can use immediately. While there are a number of apps on the market that push offers to users — Groupon and Foursquare being two examples — Kiip’s innovation of putting those rewards directly into apps by way of its network means that its offers go, in Wong’s words, “wherever you are.”

He says that up to now the engagement rates have been very encouraging. So far, Kiip has seen a 22%  redemption reward rate, and 50% of its redeemers come back to Kiip for more. The majority of users, Wong says, are between the ages of 18 and 34, and Kiip sees a relatively equal mix between male and female users, with ads coming in from big names like Disney, Best Buy and Procter & Gamble.

The bigger picture will see Kiip trying to better match up rewards with increasingly relevant apps. Right now, the company is still in early-adopter phase with a lot of the activity focused around gaming — either in the form of actual mobile games or in areas like fitness apps, which have a natural gamification element to them. It is here that the Yo! Sushi brand fits in particularly well — the company has a kind of Japanese-manga-inspired branding that matches well with gaming design.

But down the road, there will be separate micro-networks around areas like female-focused apps and women’s consumer products; car apps and car-related rewards, and so on. And with the increasing push on location-based offers you can see how this, too, will also start to play a more prominent role with Kiip.

Looking ahead, Kiip is planning to announce more brand partnerships in the UK soon, and it is “on the verge” of rolling out its first campaigns in the middle east and Asia Pacific, with Kiip’s London office, led by Eamonn Carey, leading much of that growth.


Kiip Takes Its First International Steps, Inks Reward Network Deal With UK’s Yo! Sushi

Recce, A Rich, Interactive Map That’s Also A Gaming Platform, Launches With $4M From NEA

The Shard, HMS Belfast & Tower Bridge

While we wait for the full-throttle effect of Apple Maps in iOS6, a new app has launched today that is raising the game for what we should be expecting out of the world of social-mobile-local services. Recce — pronounced “wreckie”, British slang for “reconnaissance” (only English people would make slang out of a word like that) — presents a 3D, animated birds-eye view of a city, and what is going on in it, by aggregating dozens of data feeds from other services — ranging from mapping providers to those building listings of places to eat, and social networks like Twitter, integrating it all, and then presenting it in a slick, attractive app that is essentially a searchable map. (Think of Recce as the pretty face of big data.) And it’s launching with some strong support: NEA is the lead investor in a $4 million Series A round in Recce’s developers, London-based eeGeo, with total funding for the company now at $4.7 million including a seed investment from Initial Capital, Swordfish Investments, and others.

In its earliest iteration, Recce is only providing maps and data for central London, with San Francisco and New York next in line, but its developers are thinking big. The intention is to extend out to many more cities over the coming months. And, signficantly, to do more besides maps: Recce is also building itself out to be a platform not only for all location-based services but also location-specific games.

Does all of that sound too ambitious? Not if you know a bit more about the people behind the venture. Besides heavy-hitting backers like NEA, Recce is coming to market with an impressive amount of experience behind it: the founders are Ian Hetherington, formerly MD for Sony Playstation (now CEO of eeGeo), and Rian Liebenberg, formerly the engineering director for Google (now COO).

Liebenberg only left Google in September 2011, to join Hetherington in what he fondly calls “scrappy startup life.” But he’s no slouch: when at Google not only did he help build up the company’s entire R&D operation, but he was one of the main people behind the creation of Google Hangouts. “It was my baby,” he told me.

The idea for Recce — which by the way was originally supposed to be called Mapply, until a French company called Mappy called to say “Non!” — came out of what Liebenberg says was an awareness of all the interesting applications out there that are location-based but the challenge of how to use them collectively to their best advantage.

“It’s a problem of discovery,” he says simply. And if you have had to toggle between a number of apps on your phone to figure out the best place to get an ice cream or whatever else in a city you don’t know very well, you probably know what he’s talking about. One app may have the most comprehensive listings, but they’re out of date. Another has outdated user reviews. Another has live reviews but lacks breadth or a link to a decent navigation map. And that’s before looking at some of the more practical uses of a city app: looking for train times or bus arrivals, for example. Recce’s listings and map become like the merged version of all of these. You can use it to find things to do and services near you, bookmark them for future, find your way to them, and tell other people about them.

The app works in real time, but it also has an offline mode, which stores the latest update on your tablet or smartphone. In a handy tweak, Recce will tell you how many minutes since it was last updated — useful for time-sensitive listings like transportation or cinema information.

There are other features on Recce that make it an engaging and exciting product to use. There is the quick and fun process of navigating your way around a city — using your finger you can zoom in and out of locations, and walk around buildings, and collapse them if there are too many in your way to get a good perspective — features that may really come into their own in Recce’s games-platform strategy.

And the fact that you can use it as a client to update sites like Twitter gives it currency beyond just using it as a way mine existing data; it becomes a data generator in its own right. It seems to provide a potentially neat complement to what Twitter, for example, is doing in fact with its advertising push: the fact that every tweet from Recce is location-specific could make it an attractive platform for Twitter advertising focused on specific locations.

As for that ad part… this is probably where the company will be looking for its first revenues since Recce is launching totally free to use. The ads will likely come in the form of badges and promotions for particular locations on the map — for example Starbucks putting in its own branded badges on its city locations. The company has already spoken to a number of major brands about getting involved in this way, although Liebenberg says that this is not an area that Recce is pursuing for now. The goal, he says, is to keep building up its maps and user base, making Recce a richer place to live.


Recce, A Rich, Interactive Map That’s Also A Gaming Platform, Launches With $4M From NEA